Why Printing from Your Photographers Digital Images Can Result in Disappointment

Walk into one of your local photographers studios and look around. See the marvelous works of art they have displayed. Even take a tour of a local gallery where various photographers have displays. Visit your local photography guilds or associations when they are having print competitions.

Can you see images in printed forms that literally jump off the paper at you?

So you go an hire a “professional photographer” and he does his or her “thing” and hands you a disc or USB full of image so “you can print all you want” from those digital files. Sounds like a great deal, right?

Yet, when you take those images down to your 1 hour photo lab, what you get back is far from what you imagined or even saw on your screen. They look dull, lifeless, and even perhaps so dark you can’t imagine what could be wrong.

So you spent some money for “professional results” and ended up with something your 12 year old could take with their point and shoot camera taken in the dark. Far too often this is exactly what I see happening to countless people and honestly, I do feel sorry for them. It was money spent and basically wasted for quality you can never have in printed form from your “Shoot and Burn” photographers.

Sure, they CLAIM they did proper editing, but chances are, they are pretty much not going to do the things for those stunning images you want and paid for. Why? Because most don’t have a clue what to do. There is more to turning your basic digital file into a print that has every feature and every eyelash crisp and sharp and leaving you breathless.

Let’s examine a couple of things vital to proper editing that few “shoot and burn” photographers actually do.

First, they rarely use color calibrated computer monitors. Without that, you might see images on your screen that look phenomenal, but printed it is a totally different thing. Most computers display colors with a slightly “bluish” tint to them right out of the box. Images edited on these screens tend to go “orange” in printed from. Additionally, most prints from uncalibrated editing results in excessively dark images in prints.

Second, an image set up for printing MUST be properly prepared for the size print you are producing. A “full resolution file” is fine if you are printing the size of that image file- say roughly a 10 x16 if it is a 16.3 mp image file, but at any other size, you are either “squashing” pixels together beyond the standard 300 ppi (pixels per inch) for prints OR you are having images with not enough ppi for amazingly crisp prints in larger sizes. An 8×10 is prepared far differently for printing than is a 30×40 canvas print. A true professional knows how to prepare the files for proper printing output. Without this step, prints will look “pixelated” or you have issues with moire’ or other printing problems. Many labs attempt to “resolve” images to their proper ppi for printing, especially consumer labs, and they make a bigger mess of the files than if they would have left them alone in a lot of cases.

Third, images are edited in the wrong color space. Most labs require sRGB editing and that color profile embedded in the image file itself. I know MANY “shoot and burn” photographers that have no clue what color space means and they edit with out of gamut colors that cant be printed and their photos look dull and lifeless on paper. They may look fantastic on screen, but lousy in printed form. “Wide gamut” monitors can display a far greater range of color than can most labs produce in printed form and if they do a “color space conversion” to your images, and many do, then the problem gets even worse. Then, you have the “color correction” issue that many consumer labs do to images that turns prints into dull and meaningless things you won’t want either.

Forth, proper sharpening of a digital file must be done. If you have ever seen a printed image in a large size where you can count every eyelash, the eyes are crisp and dynamic, and every detail is outstanding, you can bet that proper sharpening of that image happened in post-processing. There is NO SUCH THING as a “universal sharpening” of an image. Unless it is first sized for print and sharpened for that size, you either get nothing or those “crunchy” looking prints that few really like. Proper sharpening for print is as much an art as it is a science, and I could write an entire book about it.

So if your “shoot and burn” photographer has told you “your images have been sharpened for print”, the chance are, they aren’t fully knowledgeable of proper sharpening techniques and you are likely to get disappointed in the results. A 5×7 paper print has a totally different set of parameters for sharpening than does a 16×24 canvas. They are not interchangeable and it’s something that has taken me many hours of “trial and error” to come up with a method that creates amazing photographs in print.

Let me leave you with this- a very dear photographer whom I respect and love used to do a “universal sharpening” to all her images. On screen, they look unbelievable. In print, not so much. I sat down with her one day and showed her the proper way to sharpen for output and sent those images to the lab. She was totally blown away since one of those prints she had “universally sharpened” already.

So the next time you are considering hiring a photographer, ask a few questions from the above information. Any true professional can give you the right answers and will gladly do so. If you are getting a lot of “run around”, then you should suspect you have a genuine rookie to photography. I know that every single day I learn something new and amazing that gives me ways to produce unbelievable printed images. It’s why I don’t offer “digital files” to my clients and one reason they love coming to me- there is no hassle for getting prints that are professionally done and it shows when they display them on their walls or in the album they purchased.

After all, that millisecond of time captured on that photograph must have meaning to you, so why not make it one you cherish for a lifetime. Printing your own from a “digital file” is likely to leave you more than disappointed, so get your printed images from your photographer. If they don’t offer them, or only offer “online ordering”, then consider hiring someone who does. Most “online ordering” isn’t from true professional labs and the photographer isn’t going to spend the time needed to properly prepare your images for print as well. You can’t make a 4×6 and 16×20 output the same identical thing and not lose quality. Take it from someone who once tried that route.


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